You’d be heard-pressed to hear about a shoe more controversial than the flip-flop. Funny how such a simple pair of shoes can get people riled.
Flip-flops are a type of sandal with no heel and only a strap covering the forefoot, with a between-the-toe thong extending from that strap to the sole. The name is onomatopoeic, referring to the sound they make when you walk in them. Also referred to as “thongs” in Australia, they’re quintessential beachwear that’s been worn in town since the 1970’s, at least in the States.
Flip Flop History
Thong sandals are without a doubt the oldest style of shoe known to man, not to mention the most ubiquitous. They’re like the onions of the shoe world: found on nearly every continent.
They’re depicted in ancient Egyptian murals dating as far back as 4,000 B.C., and a pair found in Europe that was made of papyrus leaves is dated as being approximately 1,500 years old.
The British have been making great shoes for a long time, but not that long.
In South America they’ve been made from sisal plants, and in China and Japan they’ve been made from rice straw. Early Mexican natives used yucca plants to make flip-flops.
Flip Flops In The United States
Thongs were popularized in the United States as GI’s returned from the Pacific front in the Second World War. The Japanese flip-flop, zōri, was a popular item that American guys didn’t want to give up when returning to our shores. They really took off in the 1950’s, after the Korean War ended. It was de riguer to wear your flip-flops in bright colors at the time.
In the 1960’s, they became synonymous with the laid-back California lifestyle the early Beach Boys sang about and were a common swim accessory, sold alongside bathing trunks and goggles.
Back in 2005, the Northwestern University women’s lacrosse championship team wore flip-flops to the White House to meet with then-President George W. Bush. This caused an incredible stir, and the team ended up auctioning their flip-flops off, donating the proceeds to charity.
In 2011, Barack Obama was the first American president to be photographed wearing flip-flops. He was on vacation in Hawaii. People lost their minds.
Rules For Wearing Sandals, Or How To Avoid Controversy
As popular as flip-flops are, no other shoe has earned so much scorn in modern times. Why is this? We feel that there are two main reasons:
- The dressing down of the American male, and
- Not wanting to look at men’s bare feet
Dress Down Culture
It’s not news that Americans have been dressing more and more casually for at least twenty years. Many of us bemoan this embrace of the idea that comfort is more important than looking good (as if they two concepts were mutually exclusive, which they aren’t), and flip-flops are a convenient scapegoat for this.
What started as beachwear has made its way into the city. In the summertime, it’s not at all uncommon to walk past restaurants with outdoor seating to see dozens of men with nothing but a thin strip of rubber or leather protecting their feet from a subway grate. Folks who find this look too casual rail hard against flip-flops.
Get A Pedicure
The other big subset of flip-flop haters are those who cannot stand the sight of a man’s bare foot. At first, this seems unfair. If we can see women’s bare feet without issue, why shouldn’t we be able to see a man’s?
Gentlemen, if we’re being 100% honest with ourselves, when is the last time you got a pedicure? You likely haven’t, but women often get them regularly. Yo udon’t deserve the convenience if you’re not willing to engage in the maintenance.
Even worse, a lot of men have toenail fungus, athlete’s foot, and other foot ailments that can only be described as, well, gross. In the same way that you shouldn’t leave the house without showering out of respect for your fellow humans, you shouldn’t expose your feet in public if they look like that.
How To Wear Flip Flops Without Incurring The Wrath Of Those Around You
If you decide to wear thong sandals to a place that has neither sand nor water, here’s what to keep in mind:
- Your feet cannot be gross. Trim your toenails. Scrub your feet free of dead skin. If you have toenail fungus, get rid of it via a medicated treatment, wait until next year, and then wear flip-flops.
- Dress them up a bit, especially if you’re going out in the evening. Wearing them to dinner with a nice pair of casual white trousers and a handsome collared shirt is one thing. Wearing them with cargo shorts and an Iron Maiden t-shirt is quite another.
- Don’t wear them unless it’s actually hot outside. Like, really hot. A 75-degree spring day doesn’t count. We mean the dog days over summer: 85+ degrees, high humidity, and a desperate need to wear as little as possible without getting arrested for indecent exposure.
- Don’t wear them to the office. Even if the office allows it.
- Don’t wear them with socks, unless you are from or immersed in an Asian culture where this is typical.
What Flip Flops To Wear
There are many brands that make flip-flops, and prices range from extremely cheap to outrageously expensive. While we always support investing in quality footwear, flip-flops are a special case and we don’t necessarily recommend spending $200 on a pair.
With that said, consider your geography. Do you wear sandals three months out of the year, or do you live in a place where it’s always hot and can thus wear them year-round? Those in the former category can afford to spend less on a pair, whereas those in the latter category may want to consider investing in a nicer pair.
- Old Navy: $5-$15
- Aldo: $50-$75
- Cole Haan: $100
- Birkenstock (yes, they make flip-flops too): $100-$235
Internally, we are split on the subject of flip-flops. Some of us believe that they’re for the beach or the pool and nothing more, while others believe that under certain conditions, they can be worn in select non-beach scenarios.
Ultimately, you will have to decide if flip-flops are okay for you and your particular circumstances. Every guy should have a pair in his closet (they’re always appropriate at the beach or on vacation), but every guy should be judicious when wearing them too.